3

10
Peter J , Rllrgnrl/
Notes
I II is the smothering of "Das Uneil" under the mass of the history of us recep
tion, including Kafka's own interpretation in his letters and diaries, that leads
me to think a reading that excludes that reception and focuses almost entirely
on the inner logic of the narrative itself-a simple reading, one might 5.I)'-i,
inorder. Of course, it would be silly to deny altogether the influence of Kalka
scholarship on my reading of the text, given courses long ago in gradu,lIc "hool
that occasionally dealt with Kafka and conversations over the years with friend,
and colleagues who also happen to be Kafka scholars. I can only &1ythat I have
not knowingly drawn on existing Kafka scholarship. Since completing the draft
of this essay, however, I have benefited from insightful readings of il b)' Stolrl
Barnell, Michel Chaouli, and Richard Gray. 1would like to thank them for theIf
critical generosit y.
2 Franz Kafka, Die Erzillrilmgerr (Prankfun: Fischer, 1961),27; Tilt' AkltlllJorplwSis.
1IIII'f Pena! COIOIIY, alld Oll,er Stories (New Y ork: Schocken, 1995), ~9; in many
cases the translations, which appear as footnotes, have been emended,
3 In Friedrich Nietzsche 011 Rhetoric "lid Lallglllrge, ed, Sander Gilman, C.lr{l1e
Blair, and David J . Parent (New Y ork: Oxford University Pre'" 19
8
9).
4 Verkrhr also signifies other things not addressed here, such 3, COImO
crce
.
Philosophical Exercises in Repetition:
On Music. HUlTIOr, and Exile in
Wittgenstein and Adorno
L Y DIA GOEHR
-
In den finsicren Zeitcn
wi rd da noch gesungen werden? -r _.
d
finsteren "",Iten.
la! da wird ge.ungen werden von en ,
d
finsteren Zelten.
da wird gcsungcn werden von en
rlo
lt
Brechl/ll30ns Eisler)
_ "Spruch 1939:' Hollywood SongboOk, Be
I,
no surprise for
"W .se and there was d 10
HEN 1 CAMI' horne I expected a surpn . circa 1944,' /IOf!
"WitlgenstCtO ke
me, so of course I was surprised. So wrote . Novalis, they spo
d
Y
ear Quotmg ht Bu
l
an Horkheimer wrote of home U1Csame . I cc always soug .
r . f h me as a p a ' titied'
o philosophy as homesickness and 0 0 el nd nnd of Its jU' d
w . atural hom a , ·,~re)tr
orrymg about the Nazi appeal to a n at hollle, one
. d'fli rent natu
r
"ou~hl
uon through myth they thought of a Ie ed to. 1>utone
ft " '.' d nor return " 1'h'S ~~IY I>
om myth, they said neither dlsco
vere
. S escaped. I il
. . '. "of ha
vlo
h the ex
In philosophy travel or in the exiled state r.: g home IhrouS
" b t see"lI1
ahout how philosophers have thought a ou . d' J t11I<
Ing " ... s \~llh )11
actIVity of philosophy, . olher 3CU
VIUC
n Ill' ~
This essay compares philosophy Wllh ""~ Ill
usic
, 'fhe cOIllJ '3
r1
S O
~lructurcs and important endingS: humor an
3
12
Lydia Cor'"
long history. Y et I juxtapose these theme .. primMil} Inrhe work of twomod-
ernists. Wiugenstein and Adorno. I focus 1.:" on independent thoughts about
humor. music. or exile and marc on how CJ ~h contnburc- to modernist un-
derstandings of philosophy's dynamic form.
My initial motivation to juxtapose these theme, lJ llll from reading those
sections of the Critique oj juriglllclII in which Kant establi-h ... , a formalist and
non-conceptual model for both music and humor. lhcre he givcs us a clue
about bow we might think about the movement of thought-how we might
think about something one way and then come to think ,1110utit differently.
In this regard. his model connects to one often claimed J lhantage of exile.
namely. that in the foreignness exile imposes, one come' 1t1 think different·
Iy about home. One way to think about how philosoph} moves thought is
in terms of how it brings a philosopher from a confused ttl a rruthful place.
Modernists sometimes call this truthful place "home,"
Obviously philosophy aims to bring clarification at horne by providing
rational arguments. arguing us in and out of positions, and it matters what
the content of these arguments is, However, some philo,ophcrs also payat-
renrion to form, and even to the performance of their arguments. to show
how the content is literally moved, Kant was less interested in performance
than in form, yet he influenced the modernists. Of course the modernists had
other precursors, and in the mauer of philosophy's performance, Socrates h~
always been exemplary, So let us begin by recalling Socrates' proclamation In
the Phaedrus that
writing has this strange quality about it, which makes it really like
painting: the painter's products stand before us quite as though the)'
were alive; but if you question them, they maintain a solemn silence,
So. too, with written words: you might think the}' spoke as if they
made sense, but if you ask them anything about what they are 53),-
ing, if you wish an explanation. they go on telling you the same
thing, over and over forever,
" t thi k b ' d with
re III y contrast, Socrates continues, of a discourse that IS use
knowledge, or as "a living, animate discourse," And he draws this an.!logy:
Id
' .. 'ield
wou asensible farmer who cared about his seeds and wanted them to )
I " k plca-
urn a good crop seriously plant it during the summer", and then ta e
, I • "ake
sure to t ie spectacle of a fine crop on the eighth day?" Or wouldn t he m
full use of scientific husbandry and plant it in suitable soil and be perfectly
satisfied it if came tomaturity in the eighth month?") For Socrates, the farmer
3
1
3
P /ii/osop/lica/ Lxames ill U epetilioll
mayserve 3'a model for the philosopher. the person who uses her knowlcdge
and art in a suitable way, with good timing or with a good sense of the time
that it takes to learn.
Taking the right time for learning is 3 process of coming to understand,
and onc aspect of coming to undcrstand is that a change in thought occurs:
we see something one way-prcsumably a mistaken way-then we come to
seeit another way-pre~umably a (more) correct way.Socrates' worry about
philosophy's being written down is that the text will keep being read. as a
painting will keep be seen. in the same, perhaps mistaken. way over and over
again. But if, he says, the speech remains a living, animate discourse, the dan-
ger of repeated error is less threatening. 1 am interested in this danger. For
although repetition is quite necessary in the process of learning, learning hap-
pens when we move beyond seeing the same thing "over and over" again and
come to sec it differcntly.
Both Wittgenstein and Adorna wcre concerncd with the performance of
their philosophical argument, and as part of that conccrn they focused on
repetition. Both focused on the sort of differential repetition that captures the
movement of a "living, breathing discourse," in which one comes to see"the
same thins" differently. Someone who comes to understand IIpieceof music
will, Wittsenstein once wrote, "listen differently ... play differently. hum dif-
ferently, talk differently.'" Adorno could have wriuen the same words, and in
neither philosopher's case would the "differencc" of which they spoke ha\'e
been trivial. With all the rhetorical repetition he could muster, Adorno wrote:
"Thc minimal differences from the ever-lhe-same" define "the difference con-
cerning the totality," In these differences, in divergence itself, is our hope con-
~entratcd.1 J ust as relevantly he comparcd the "wretched fate" of memory and
individuality to the joke that is "specifically conlmiUcd to paper so that we"
can remember il.". Writing down a joke fixes a meaning as ·cvcr-thC-~'lmc
and renders redundant its performance in divergent conteXts. Hewould also
speak about musical recordings as presenting thcmselves as"alreJ dy ,omplet~
f I d: .. ,,'d sound like thelf
rom t te very first note:' Performances nO
Wll
ays, ne ...
1
,
own phonograph records! ..
" . . . d ' tivelyand pOSIlIVeJ )'.
t-or both philosophers, repetluon wasconceIve neg
a
.
G id .' can [ust mean dOing
.UI ed by the principle of eternal sameness, repelilion .
th' ..' tI e identikit prOduclion
c same thing over and over agalll. Here. It suggests 1 .
f
. .. I'" 5t .ctly speaklng. under thl'
o C()PIC~or thc fo\1owing of rules to the eller. rt . f __.1 d . t cl angcabl
e
; for thClf
orm of repetition, the copies or acts pruu
uce
are In cr 1 •
. I . el . t1 the same way Thank I'<,r-
It entity, each stands to the rules or mod IneXile Y . .
11 . f< I comn!iant mu,1(31ptr-
aps of Nelson Goodman's prescripuon for per ect y I'
314
L y d i a C o c l l r
formances that, logically speaking, are mtcrchangcable. We might well call
this form of repetition uninspired, cold, or, wuh all the Socrntic ~isnilicaJ lce
of this term, "unmusical," Repetition, conceived PIlSIllWh is by contrast de-
velopmental, constructive, or gencrauve: its gUldmg pnnciple is difference
or change. Here we might think of the rondo or \011.113 forms ( s a y . Haydn's
J oke Quartet in G, Op. 33). with their procedures 01 variauon, mterrupted or
unconventional resolutions, and unexpected repetitious. Or we might think
of musical performances standing to each other historically, thus producing
a reception-history of a given work. Or we rnav think of the production of
examples, which, following the same model or set of rules, exhibit between
them evidence of learning. development, and musicality, In this case, weare
interested not just in how well each example follows the rules or model. but
also inthe development and change that obtains between them. "In music."
Wittgensrein writes:
a variation on 3 [heme could be Imagined. which. phrased a bit
differently, say, can be conceived as a completely different kind of
variation of the theme.... J ndeed what I mean is probably 10 be
found absolutely always. when arepetition makes the theme appear
inaquite different light."
Developmental repetition is preferable to cold repetition. yet it cannot be
articulated independently of its cold alternative. It persistently shows thecold
threat of the "ever-the-same" Oil its other side as a regressive pattern wem a y
fall into when we are not paying attention. wiugenstein and Adorno both
demonstrate this in their different performances of philosophical argument.
how changing the way wethink or see, or changing our attitude towards the
world. requires that wepersistently resist the lure of cold repetition. Wiltgen'
stein once captured something of the special attentiveness weneed inmatters
of understanding when he wrote: ~Wespeak of understanding ascntcnct' III
thesense inwhich it can be replaced by another which says thesame; but also
in the sense in which it cannot be replaced by any other. (Any more than one
musical theme can be replaced by ancther.)'"
Consider now the ideaof exileseen from a double perspective: nrst.liter-
ally, interms of two philosophers living abroad. away from home. by choiceor
force, or by the dire political necessity of a century with two world wars, and
then, second, metaphysically or metaphorically as a condition of estrange-
ment, unfamiliarity, and foreignness. Wiugenstein and Adorno both thought
about both sorts of exile. although Adorno much more explicitly. v{hat I lind
3
1
S
Plli/osopIIlCIl/ Exerci;es ill /{l'pctitloll
intriguing" how they both internalized their thoughts aboUI exile or foreign-
nessinto the form of their philosophical argument and how they usedmusical
models to do so. Both thought also about humor, Much in their philosophical
arguments depended on triggering 3 change of altitude, yet they did not sim-
ply reject a talse view and then positively offer a true view in its place, They
tried to do more, actually to bring about thechrulg
e
of attitude itself,Andthis
they did by focusing, as one would in music and humor, on the performance
of their argument, Both employed techniques of estrangement and defami-
larization 10 break the power of (cold) sameness: in 'v\fittgenstcin'scase, meta-
physical illusion. of deep or core essences. and in Adorno'
S
case, ideolog
klll
distortions of conformity and identity, Wiugcnstcin spoke of "the injustices
of philosophy?" Adorno of "damaged life,"" Both used their philosophy to
challenge the comforts of home, to throw into doubt what wetaketo bemost
familiar and self-evident, Both aimed to demonstrate tbedistinctio
n
between
truth and deception, to contrast a falsefeeling of fumiliarity with a trUeone,
to replace. they said. afalsesense of homc with atrue sense,
Yetforalt this similarity lheycnded upwith different conceplioosofhome,
Willgcnstcin's philosophy led him to propose aconservative and harmonious
home; Adorno's to II critical and dissonant horne, Wittgcnstein thought about
happy endings; Adorno rejected them, The question 1leave~lOanswereduntil
the end is whether or not their different homes or endings could havebeen
determined oy philosophical form alone, If this isaproject about philosophi-
cal formalism, then it isalso about how far form can take you, This. and this
iswhere weshalt begin, is Kant'S concern too.
1 1 ,
Many readers think Kant had nothing interesting to sayabout music, I think
he had, especially if we read his comlllents OIl music as apreludeto thoseon
~umor, By connecting music to humor, he proposed an Btt,iS
1iC
formalism
linked to the health of the body that corresponds, given thelugher artb.
tO
an
aesthetic formalism linked to the health of the mind,
Kant classified the fine artS into those of word, gesture, and lone, and
h
' d h'ch he includes rhelO-
ten, m more detail, inlo the arts of speech, un er \y I , ' di "and sculpture; and. at
nc and poetry; the fornlative artS, uldu log pamllng ,
I
' lncl d'ng theart of ITlUstC.
t ICbouom of the hierarchy the nrts of sensation. til u I
1 h
' esthetiCideas. where
n ISgeneral schemc, the fine artS of beauty express a ",
h ' ' he f Ity of the ImagInation
tnose ideas, he wrote, are representallOns to t e IUCU ' If
tl
' hi h d finl't~thouaht attaches use
lJ t induce in US thought bul 1 0 w Ie 00 e ~ e
316
I )'din God"
as adequate.' Here is one aspect 01 formalism. an abstraction that, partially
because of the inadequacy, removes from aesthetic ideas adefinite conceptual
COntent.Yetaesthetic ideas can be analogicallj matched (in the formal play
between the faculties of imagination. understandmg, and reason) to cogni-
tive and moral ideas and acquire high value tor the rnmd rhereby, However,
some arts hardly even do this. and among them Kant mcludes in>trumenlal
music. "wallpaper music" or "fantasias" without text or program. A temporal
and agreeable art. he wrote, instrumental music produces liule more than
pleasant and fleeting sensations through us patterns of tones. Here isanother
aspect of formalism. a formal play of patterned sensation> that I1wolvesno
more than this play. In this context, Kant concluded. music i~best conceived
as a Tonspiel classified alongside other kinds of play: the pia)' of poker (GWek·
spiel) and the play of thought i Gedankenspiet), The play of thought isthedis-
play of wit. of humor, Though they excite the mind through the body, none
of these plays has high mental or cognitive value. for though they play. say.
with thought, Kant asserted, "nothing in tire end is tllollglll." Henceforth Kant
focused on music and humor. Poker, he said, obviously has an inlcresl-win·
ning and monetary gain.
Although in the end IIoll,illg is tlrought. music and humor still promote
health and well-being. In explaining how, Kant stressed the temporal and for-
mal nature of their play, the play, he said, of changes, because their point is
not to communicate a thought or interest, but to bring about, through the
oscillation of the body, a physical state of rest after its having been aroused.
Although "nothing is thought." these arts enliven the mental faculties through
the body. in music's case, through aural or sensorial stimulation, and in hu-
mor's case, through laughter. through the livelygrarification that comes from
the quickening oscillation of our diaphragms. Kant spoke of change~of sen-
sation and of representation. or music. hewrote first:
But the affections of hope. fear, joy. anger. and derision here engage
as play, as every moment they change their parts, and are so livel),
that. as by an internal motion, the whole vital function of the body
seems to be furthered by the process-as is proved by a vivacity of
the mind produced-although no one comes by anything by the
wayof profit or instruction,'.
Then he moved On to humor. When we hear a joke something is pre·
sented to the understanding that at some point goes wrong or disappointS us.
The frustrated expectation forces us to relinquish the understanding'S control.
Plrilosopili(albanses ill Repetitioll
In response, our body slacks ami our organs oscillate. Capturing the rhythm
of the process itself, Kant wrote: "Laughter is an affection arising from an
expectation ihat is strained Igespnmttj, and which suddenly reduces to noth-
mg (llersc/Iwilllkt pliH z lic ll ill lIic lrtsJ . " As however our diaphragm is calmed
and our under,landing restored, we experience a peaceful state. And Ihat is
beneficial to our health.
Kant developmentally demonstrated his theory by telling three, and irn-
portamlj three illtc rrelntc d, jokes that would entertain us at a dinner pariy.
(I think in fact he was the first to make explicit the philosophical import of
the comedian', "Rule of Three:') So an Indian is sitting at an Englislunan's
dinner table in Surat and sees a bottle of ale opened and all the beer frothing
and flowing out. The Indian is as\(lnished and when the Englishman asks
why, the Indian says: I am not astonished at how the beer gets out of the
bottle, but how you ever managed to get it in? Knnt said: "at this we laugh,
and it gives us hearty pleasure;' But, he added, we do not laugh at the In-
dian man's ignorance. We laugh only because our expectation was extended
to the Limit, and in being frustrated, dissolves intO nothing, like a snapped
violin string that vibrates until it dies. The second joke is about the heir to a
wealthy fortune who in arranging an ostentatioUS funeral for his benefucto
r
complained that the more money he gave the mourners to look sad, the more
pleased they looked. Again the expectation is reduced to nothing. For we do
not tell a story simply to state an untrue or reverse conclusion; that would nor
be funny. Rather. we laugh when the expectation of one ending is replaced
by another ending, because that is what strains the expectation. We lau~h 31
the absurdity of the logic. Consider if we said there was a man who grieved
so much that his hair turned white in a single night. We would not laugh.
However, if we said there was a man who grieved so 01Uell that his wi~turn.cd
white, we would. We would laugh at the juxWpositio
n
of the c.xpectall
on
With
. . thi " ~ apable of
Its straining. Kant added that jokes must have some lIllg In .u.,cmc•.
momentarily deceiving us. Let us call this feature the cognltlve!y dissonant
moment. the moment when we react 10 the formal piny of tllOUg
ht
less rhe
thoughts themselves. when something in this play strikes us momentarily as
I
. al hi' d sn't J lwav<work)
raving gone awry. J ust consider how often (- t oug 1It oe t:
we transpose the content of jokes from onc cultural conl~xl 10 another, yet
retain the form. The formal play alone stimulntes rhereaction. , . c . . tI at it is hard to deler-
For Kant, the problem with focusmg on form IS 1 _.'
. . . I II' ouoh? As In his umCbO
mine Its importance beyond play. Is bodily lea 11ell ,,' . . . . 1 . h s What do we gct
Mill III ours we keep asking what cognluve va ue musIc as. . .
r
. all moving formS? SimIlarly.
rom experiencing pleasurable sensa
tron
or tOn. y
L y d i a G o e l l r
we might ask what humor's cugnllivc value I' II l.lU!!ht,·r ends, 3SKant said.
with nothing thought. (")oke." W~mlghl .1'1. 10 .ld.lpi Fnntenelie's famous
eighteemb-cenrurv quesuon nl the ,on.!tJ . "what do vou want of me?") How-
ever.I think these quesrions mislead imlll,H .1, Ihe' Ie" us our auention on the
process's outcome. not the pm,.:" 1l~1t. A.' \II tocuwd, we tail to SCI.' how fa r
humor and music moll' serve .1, mudd, tor thinking about how philosophical
argument can trigger a change 01 thought. kt the-e model- work only if we
emphasize the ternporallv structured pro(C'''':' nl Illu,i, and iokes. the (om'
plex patterns that enable cognitivclv dl"t'lhlllt 111<1111<111\ to occur. indepen-
dently of the question of achieverncru. H,ld ".lIlt Ill,u,cd more on music's
form than on ib material content of ,ensauonv, he would have seen. aslater
theorists did. that music too h.h ih own patterns nl <:\ped.lllon. frustralion.
and fulfillment. However. he doc, nor, and ihcrctor ...due, not see. as olhers
later do. that it l'not onlv the humorous person. bUI the musical person tOO.
who has 3talent. as Kant put II. for emcnng » "tIlP'" turn' world" or"a frame
of mind 111 which everything is c-urnarcd on Itn~' ih.u go quite offLhe beaten
track." Both following a piece (If mU\K and Inllowin~ .1 joke may serveas
models for thinking about how philnsophv can rake us otT the beaten track.
since in none of these Cd'C~, J ~Kant ohserl'l'd.ls moving off the beaten track
. . . ., areall
moving into unstructured rcrritorv, On the ,ontr.lrv. these J CtlVltles
highly structured. However. a, with all analogies. the kantian one only goes
so far. because, contrary to music and humor. \\'C would not be satisfied With
3 philosophy that merely gave us bodily health or wllh .1philosophical home
in which "nothing b thought." Rut sull, the iorm might have shoIVnus some-
thing of considerable importance on the wav,
Ill.
I
(crned ,,,jlh
Influential on both Wingenstem and Adorno. freud wa- J ,0con t
. his 3CCO
un
process and cogninve dissonance, and what I' useful for us In f
. hr' kes and that 0
ISt e analogy he drew between the temporal .,tructure 0 10 ble
. d I of dOll
dream analysis. freud emphasized both the prc,enc
C
an pay led
. fl' (I' In une~pec
meanmg. S,o ateru and manifest content. where. tor examp e, f h eX-
. rion 0 I e
conclusion makes cxplicu what WJ ' latent at fiN III the torma the
. boW
pectation, Like Kant, Freud "3$ concerned with the lorln of jokes. In uld
I u htcrl'"O
formal play itself would provoke the laughter. To provok~that a g inan
• • .1 'tS,ollten
l
require the J oke. as in dream analvsis. to rearrange anu mali<' I
unexpected W3\·. .d lh3(\~hen
Y et Freud Introduced an element Kanl did not nJ lIlcll'.the I ea
Phi/Mopllica/ Exerc;ses;1I Repet;lioll
3
1
9
we hear a joke for the first time we laugh. but when we hear it repeated we
don't. Addressing the topic of repetition. he wrote:
Nor can children have their pleasllrable experiences repeated often
enough, and they are inexorable in their insistence that the repeti-
lion shall be an identical one. This character trait disappears Inter
on. If a joke is heard for a second time it produces almost no ef-
fect; a the.mical production never creates so great an impression the
second time as the first; indeed, it is hardly possible to persuade an
adult who has very much enjoyed reading a book to re-read it im-
mediately. Novelty is always the condition of enjoyment.
16
Freud was probably right to say that identical repetition without a time
lapse is not of great interest to adults who arc (purportedlyl freed from ihe
basic repetition-compulsion, but surely a timely or fresh repetilion of the
same joke. play, or book can be. In his Preface 10 rile World as Will tllld Rcp-
reS€IIItlIIOIl. Schopenhauer remarked precisely on the necessity for readers to
read his book twice for the reason that, first time around. you do not know
the ending. and the second time you do, which mC'J ns at least bctween the first
and second reading your thinking through the argumenl would have changed,
Preud likely would have acknowledged this had he heen thinking here about
the repeated pleasure we have from listening to a piece of musk more than
once. for we arc bored neither by repealed hearings of the same music. nor
even, if we know how to listen. by the same (identical) recording. It is notlhat
listening to music caters 10 an infantile desire for mere repetition-though
sometimes il docs. Nor is it just that sometimes we hear something new in
music and jokes in each rehearing. Rlllircr, ;llIIiglll j,/SI be ,IIllIII is Ihe fom m f
51ructure of IIIIIS;C ilself that m oves liS over ,IIId over aga;lI. jllSI as " joke p"wokes
11510 fallgll at repealcd hen rings givi'll the im pnct of lts form 's m ovem enl. Recall
that, for both Kant and Freud, it is not ine outcome or ending of the joke that
makes us laugh per se, but the absurdity oflogic. the provoOllive juxtaposition
of thoughts. We laugh evell whell we kllOw the pUllcll lin« ill adwlttec, becallse
we leHIgh 1101 so IIIlId, (II where we gel bill at how we gfl there. A good J oke
can jolt our sense of humor as a good piece of music can play to our lllusi~11
sense-many limes. (Of cour~e, there are other kinds of jokes ioo.)
Let me see if I can demonstrale my point by lelling you read a joke you
have hopefully heard before and which has the added philosophic.11 point of
being a joke about repetitjon. Some say it is the oldest joke in the world, bUI
320
Lydill God.,
il cannot besince it's arneta-ioke=-n joke about iokes. ,0presumably at least
('.110 other jokes existed before it.
A passenger on a train watches in astonishment as ,10 old man sit-
ting opposite him keeps repealing the same pattern. Firsl he mum-
bles some words 10 himself, smiles and then wave, his hand dis-
missively=-after awhile the passenger ask, the old man what he is
doing and whether anything iswrong: Not at all,replies theold man,
whenever I take atrain I gel bored-so I tell myself jokes which is
why you S3W me smiling. But why then do you keep waving your
hand disrnissively as if to brush the smile awa)'? Oh that gc>ture!
says the old man. It's to interrupt myself when I've heard the [oke
before.
Here's another version:
When you tell ajoke to a Russian peasant he laughs three limes:
when you 11.'11 the joke, when you explain it, and when he under-
stands it, for a peasant loves to laugh. When you tell a joke to a
landowner he laughs twice-when you tell the joke and when you
explain iI,for the landowner never really understands it. When you
tell ajoke toanarmy officer helaughs once,when you tell it,because
he never lets you explain it and he never understands it. But when
you tell ajoke 10 alew,before you finish, he interrupts you. First,he
tellsyou he's heard il before; second, that you're telling it wrong, and
third, that hewants to tell you abcuer version.';
T V .
wntgensrein, like Freud, was deeply interested in what it's like to gel ajoke.
Often he drew comparisons to music, what it's like to understand apieceof
music or express the pleasure one feels,or what it's like to have (or not to
have) amusical sense. He didn't think that praising awork by saying "this is
beautiful" made the point, Rather, he said, weshow our understanding, our
pleasure, when we return 10 the work over and over again.'s What does il
mean to show our understanding? In his Remarks Oil tile Philosophy of Psy-
chology, heasked us to think about "[tjhe peculiar feeling that the recurrence
of a [musical] refrain givesus:' Hecontinued:
Plli/asapl,ien/ Exercises ; 1 1 Repetition
321
I should like to make a gesture. But the gesture isn't really at nil char-
acteristic precisely of the recurrence of a refrain. Perhaps I might
lind that a phrase characterizes the situation better: but it too would
fail to explain why the refrain strikes one as a joke, why its recur-
rence elicits a laugh or grin from me. If I could dance to the music,
that would be my best way of ex'Pressing just IIow the refrain moves
me. Certainly there couldn't be any better expression than that.-
I might, for example, put the words "To repeat," before the re-
frain. And that would certainly be apt; but it does not explain why
the refrain makes a strongly comic impression on me. For I don't
always laugh when a "To repeat" is appropriate.'9
In this and other similar kinds of sentences, Wittgenstein wanted to expose
a philosophical error. When we try to account for our feeling of pleasure, of
understanding, or of recognition, it's mistaken to think there's any c/rptll ex-
pill/tntion-an extra act. intention, or image, or a gesture, phrase. or move-
ment-that philosophically explains it. To Co'(aggerate: the gelling of a joke
requires no additional explanation other than gelling the joke; understanding
a sentence has no extra act of understanding other than gelling the point;
recognizing a face as familiar has no extra or external act of recognition. In
his Piliiosopi,iea/illvestigilrions he wrote:
Asked: "Did you recognize your desk when you entered your room
this morning?"-I should no doubt say "CcrtJ inly!" And yet it
would be misleading Ifor a philosophcrllO say that anllct of recog-
nition had taken place. Of course the desk WlIS not strJ ngc to me: I
was not surprised to see it, as I should h.ive been if .mother one had
been standing there, or some unfamiliar kind of obiect.
And in the following remark:
No one will say lhat every rime I enter my room. my long-familiar
surroundings, there is enacted a recognition of all that 1 see and
have seen hundreds of times before.'"
Willgcnstcin thought thnt it sufficed philosophically 10 stay with, and on
I
. . If . h It [oke be'lna told the sentt'nce
t iesame level as, the cJ o:perrence use ,WIt t e) D'
being uttered with theface one recognizes. The point W,\S not merely that the
. ' . I . I ience itself reside:. all the
expenence elicits the response, but tUlt to t ie cxpcn
322
1 . \ ' , / ; 1 1 Gocllr
philosophical issues. Sohewasn't suggesting that wejust accept theexperience
as is: wedo have to investigate it. Hejust thought the Investigation should not
consist of our searching for adepth explanation ,olnchow behind the experi-
ence. Of course he wasn't denying the role of mundane explanation; as, say,
when weexplain why someone understood this (,erman sentence by point-
ing out that she was brought up in Germany. Hewas only denying that in a
philosophical account one need move beyond the content of the utterances
given or the experiences had in particular contexts of use, Philosophers, he
complained, are always looking for some deep principle or essence that will
explain what is meant by a particular utterance or experience. At most one
can compare and contrast contexts; what one should not do is move beyond
context altogether. One of the most serious metaphysical illusions to which
philosophers succumb, he thus wrote, is thinking that "what issublime, what
isessential, ... consists in ... grasping one comprehensive essence?" Again, he
was not denying the sublime, only acertain sort of metaphysical explanation.
In his Lecwres 011 Aesthetics, Wittgcnstein demonstrated how giving an
example. and always more than one, is nearly alway. philosophically more
plausible than seeking an essence or exact definition. Wh),? Again, because
aesthetic responses. likesome other responses, arc not reducible to asingle
causal principle or to any other kind of scientific or exact explanation. Re-
call Kant's telling of three jokes and compare this to Wittgcnstein's interest in
the kind of response wehave when wesay"oh yes, now Isee the point, now
Iunderstand, now Iget it," where the idea is that having not initially seen
something. weget the point at the third if not the second seeing. when, as he
said, something seems to click into place. What he thought not possible was
that empirical psychology could ever explain the nature of that response. To
think it could, he said, would be"funny, very funny indeed."
So two rabbis are sitting silently over aglass of tea-you know, says
the first, lifeislikeaglass of teawith sugar. A glass of tea with sugar?
asks the other, How do you explain that? How should Iknow, says
the first: What do you think Iam, aphilosopher?
The point being that only philosophers arc tempted to seek all explanation for
the meaning of life. And now Wittgenstcin:
You might call the explanation Freud gives acausal explanation. -rr
it is not causal, how do you know it's correct?" Yousay: "Yes, that's
right." Freud transforms thejoke into adifferent form which is rec-
Pili/asop/Jim/ Exercises ill Repetitioll
3
2
3
ognized by us as an expression of the chain of ideas which led us
from one end to another of ajoke....
And then Wittgenstein points out that one thing we tend to say is that acer-
tain kind of c){planation "clicks" or "is the right one." But. hecontinues:
Suppose someone said: "The tempo of that song will be all right
when 1can hear distinctly such and such." I have pointed to aphe-
nomenon which. if it is the case, will make me satisfied.... Wc are
again and again using this simile of something clicking and fining.
when really there is nothing that clicksor that fits anytlUog.... Peo-
ple still have the Iincorrect I idea that psychology is one day goiog
to explain all our aesthetic judgments, and they mean experimental
psychology. This is very funny-very funny indeed. There doesn't
seem any connection between what psychologists do and any judg-
ment about awork of art.
1l
What did it mean for Wingenstcin to gel ajoke. a melody, or indeed, a
philosophical point? A transition or transfiguration that moves us from not
getting it to getting it. And what could make themove? Rearranging thepieces
or evidence in front of you. (Remember his loveof chess gamesor hisfamous
duck-rabbit cxample.) Wit1genstcin tbought thewhole processquitedifficult:
it isn't easy to change the way you see." The point is also that Willgcns
tein
thought the change could come with us all the time staying on thesurfuo;;eof
things, with what was always and already in front of our eyes or, in hisother
terms. in "plain view.""The aspects of things that are most important for us
are hidden," he wrote. "because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is
unable to notice something-because it isalwaysbefore one's eyes.)"" Never.
he wrote elsewhere. do weneed to "penetrate to depths deeper than langua~e
itself reveals,"! for recall: "One of thegreatest impediments for philosophy IS
the expectation of new, deep (unheard of) elucidations:'" .
In staying on the surface and denying depth explanation, ~"gcnstelll
was not denying depth. Rather, precisely in lhe pro~esso~commg to.un~e~-
stand the surface, the surface would acquire depth III all Its penctraung ~'-
rn . .... d " desi re to use ~part of Goethes
cnMons. " 'v'lIttgenstcUl once cxprcSS
e
d • • ,
poem "Allerdings" as un epitaph to his P"il050P~liCIl/.lI1Ve5IJgIIIJOIIS. althO,"g.n
in the end he did not. What wOlll
d
havebee.nhis pomt? Todcnl~n>lr3t~his
, I. . hi I r~·ion the M"""nenct Itself.
•orma Ism, that behind the phllosoP lC3 e){p~'" • ':'~-
h
. b d k r core InennlOgto be found.
t enrrangemcnt of pieces. there IS no e roc 0
Lydia Carll,
However, IIIthat expression, that experience or arrangement was all the depth
of the world. Goethe's own phrase for thi~depth w.IS "offenbarcs Geheimnis,"
( have heard this reiterated for 60vears
And cursed it on the quiet
( tell myself athousand urnes:
Nature giveseverything amply and gladly
Shehas neither core
Nor husk
Youjust ask yourself
whether you arc core or husk."
In nearly all cases of showing what he meant for a surface to acquire
depth, Wittgenstcin provided aesthetic analogies, often with jokes and often
with music. Here isan analogy with jokes that concerns depth:
The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of
language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes:
their roots are as deep in us as the form of our language and their
significance isasgreat as the importance of our language. Let usask
ourselves: why do wefeci agrammatical joke to bedeep? (And that
iswhat the depth of philosophy is).'9
And nowan analogy with music that demonstrates the formalism:
The same strange illusion which we arc under when we seem to
seek the something which a face expresses whereas, in reality, we
arc giving ourselves lip to the features before us-thaI same illu-
sion possesses us even more strongly if repeating atune toourselves
and letting it make its full impression on us, wesay"This tune says
something," and it isas though I had to find what it says. And yet 1
know that doesn't sayanything such that 1might express inwords or
pictures what it says. And if, recognizing this, ( resign myself 10say-
ing"Itjust expresses amusical thought;' this would mean no more
than saying "It expresses itself."-"But surely when you play it you
don't play it anyhow, you play it inaparticular way ... Precisely. and
that's aliI can sayabout it....
Wingcnsrein now provided his oft-quoted conclusion:
Phi/asap/lim / Exercises ill Repetitioll
3
2
5
V\'hatwecall "understanding asentence" has. in many cases. II much
greater similarity to understanding a musical theme than wemight
be inclined to think, , , For understanding asentence, wesay.points
to a reality outside the sentence. Whereas one might say"Under-
standing a sentence means getting hold of its content; and thecon-
tent of the sentence is irr the sentence" (my emphasis)J O
wirrgenstcin would further compare the case when one fuils to read a
person's mood from his face (an example of what hecalled aspect blindness).
with the inability to hear. or with the failure to have a"musical car." Or he
would compare reinterpreting a facial expression with reinterpreting amusi-
cal chord, "when wehear it asamodulation first into this. then into that key.""
Or he would compare one's recognizing something as familiar with one's
"immediately graspling] a particular rhythm in the picture and staylingl
with it."u
Wittgenstein was not using such comparisons. metaphors lind similes
merely as the content of his demonstration; he was also intenlalizing them
into it. form, To write philosophy wasto take us through the processof com-
ing to sec the point: actually to let its form move us from confusion to anew
"perspicuity" or "transparency,"" There was, he wasalwaystellins us. 110 place
to look or to go beyond what comparisons, metaphors. similes-the sentcnc-
es-say themselves. Through his repeated use of developmentaUy-rcpetitive
examples, "intermediate cases;' and methodological pronouncements. all the
rime he wass/lO ",
il'
8 us. or in his more narcis...ist;cmoments 511O W ill8himself.
the depth of his own philosophy.
Imyself still find my way of philosophizing new. and it keepsstrik-
ing meso afresh. and that iswhy I haveto rcpeal myself so oftcn.J !
will have become part or rhe flesh and blood of a new generation
and it will fiod the repetitions boring. For methey arc necessary.'.
Coming to see what Wiugenstcin meant by the depth of.thc world w~
come to see Wiltgcnstein as 3 figure of exile also, although III 3 paradOXI-
cal and deeply philosophical sense. Ihavealready mcntioned that the mOve
from not seeing to seeing. the process by which wecome to under~and. oc-
curs within the form of experience, in rearranging the piecesof thesurf-lceto
c dr' W· ' •')'b thecorrect order. "The
1\11 lor them a new order. mdced. IllgenS
tcln
~ •
hi ' f di der in our conlcl'tS. and can
P ilosophical problem IS an 3,v;J reness0 isor ~ .
b
,,1 h t yet emphaSizedthat WIll
esolved by ordering them- " However aveno
Lydia Gochr
genstein spoke of this process not only in terms of aesthetic response but
also in a language of foreignness and defarniliarization. What, for him, was
the common thrcadi-e-a commitment to "bumpy" juxtapovinons of differ-
ent yet comparable uses in different contexts, all in front of our eyes." Hence
Wittgenstein spoke many, many times of sending language out for acleaning
and bringing it home in order, or of decoding experiences of familiarit), by
sending them into foreign territories, or of what it was liketo come to under-
stand aword in a foreign language, and whether indeed such understanding
was possible at all. Once he wrote: "Two people who .J fC laughing together,
at ajoke perhaps. One of them has said certain somewhat unusual words &
now they both break out into asort of bleating IMcc~c"'/. That might appear
very bizarre tosomeone arriving among us from aquite different background.
Whereas we find it quite reaSQllllble."'·
Yet,for all these excursions into foreign territory. Wiugenstl!in in onevery
specific sense moved nowhere. lie traveled and lived for much of his lifeina
foreign land. But, as aphilosopher, he stayed on the surface, with cverything
in plain view. Metaphorically. that meant he stayed at home. Indeed. he said.
one did not need to go any further than home because home is where the
confusion is. Adapting one of the most farnous lines of exile: for Wittgenstcin,
wherever you are, you are home. Always his point was about doing philoso-
phy: "For the ground keeps on giving us the illusory image of agreater depth,
and when weseek to reach this, wekeep finding ourselves on the old level." If
one did find oneself nceding to gosomewhere, hesuggested only that wetake
astep into "the backgarden," "To go down into the depths you don't need to
travel far,"" for the philosophical detective need never abandon his "immedi-
ate and accustomed environ menI.""
So, for what purpose all this philosophical travel that keeps us nonethe-
lessat home? Tochange our attitude to the world, to transfigure our "way of
looking at things/ln this sense, the strangeness of exile was, [or Wittgenstein,
no more than the strangeness of doing philosophy. For familiar phenomena.
he wrote, "don't strike us 3S remarkable until weput them in astrange light
by philosophizing ...·'
Why the necessity for putting things in astrange light? Because language,
home, and culture shroud the world in all sorts of illusions and deceptions
that put us at odds with it, and philosophers should not further the decep-
tion. Linguistic or metaphysical error makes the philosopher unhappy. To
remove the error is to seethe world for what it is and this makes him happY·
The change does not affect the world; no, as Wingenstein said with his well-
known quietism, it leaves"everything as it is.~~Itisthe seeing of everything
Pllilosopllicnl Exercises ill Repetition
3 1 7
in its place that makes him happy. "The world of the happy man is a different
one from that of the unhappy man," Wiugenstein famously wrote." It is the
altitudinal change that makes the difference. So the happy man is the man
who stays home. having shed his seeing of its metaphysical error.
All films have happy endings. Wiugenstcin said as he sat in Cambridge
watching cowboy westerns. And what is a happy ending? No more than" feel-
ing at home in what I see" and understanding aright lhat feeling of familiar-
ity." "In order to live happily;' he wrote carlyon in his Notebooks."1 must be
in agreement with the world. And that is what 'being happy' means?"
Bur diJ wiugenstein ever reach happiness? That. for Wittgenstcin, was
the wrong question. For when he wrote that "[t)he truth can be spoken only
by someone who is already at home in it," he once more told US not about
the philosopher who had returned home but about the philosopher who had
never left. about the philosopher who had found the right Slarling point from
which to philosophize-at home. He did not want to say that we start with
truth already in hand. rather that we have to start in the right or truthful place
knowing how to proceed without metaphysical error or confusion. without
losing our sense of humor. With whom would he contrast the philosopher
who starts in this truthful place! Precisely the person who starts from the
wrong place or. as he continued the sentence. "who stitllives in untruthful-
ness. and docs no more than reach towards it from within untruthfulness.""
Who was capable of losing their sense of humor? Those who had the
wrong altitude to the world. Moving away from the kind of jokes thaI make us
laugh to the sort of attitudinal humor that befits a deeper human melancholy.
Wiugenstein now wrote:
Humor is not a mood [S tim m lll1 g }. but away oflooking utthe world.
So, if it's right to say that humor was eradicated in Nazi Gcrm~ny,
that does not mean that people were not in good spirils or anything
&
. n orront ~7
of that sort, but something much deeper more up'
v .
. 't his exile in America, re-
In 1964. Adorno, back in Frankfurt since 1949311er . •.
I
. "H ce imtlated me. he remem
called a meeting with Charlie Chap 10. e on
bered with some pleasure, for
. I whom this happen~d anti
surely I am onc of the few IntcUectun s to
(UJ&ot " ' l unDO Ui l IPf \Q) <®," ).pd QII t nOIIIWI\I. _
Lydia Goehr
to beable to account for it when it happened. 'Iogcther with many
others we were invited to a villa in Malibu. on the coast outside
of LosAngeles. While Chaplin stood next to me. one of the guests
was taking his leave early. Unlike Chaplin, 1extended my hand to
him a bit absent-mindedly, and, almost instantly, started VIOlently
back. The man IHarold Russell Iwa, one of the lead acton, fromTire
Best }'t!ars of Our Lives. afilm famous shortly after the war: he lo.t a
hand during the war, and in ih place bore practicable claws made
of iron. Whcn 1shook his right hand and Ieh it return the pressure,
I was extremely startled, but sensed immediately that I could not
reveal my shock to tile injured man at any price. In asplit second
I transformed my frightened expression into an obliging grimace
that must have been far ghastlier. The actor had hardly moved away
when Chaplin was already playing the scene hack. All the laughter
hebrings about isso ncar to cruelty; solely in such proximity tocru-
elty does it find its legitimation and its element of the salvational."
Adorno. likeWingenstein, emphasized the transfiguration of response that
occurs in the dissonant moment of humor: laughter transfigured into, or
displaced by, cruelty, aggression, or malice. but embarrassment displact!d by
relief and ease. In the story and in Adorno's telling, repetition or mimesis is
essential: the imitation of a man's gesture recorded and conveyed. and trans-
figured thereby,
Adorno's recollection of Chaplin was not his first. Yet the first, thirty
years earlier. before his exile. was nOI about recollection but prophesy. in fuct
"Kierkegaard prophesying Chaplin." In this prophetic stance, repetition
changed too. frombackward 10forward motion. In 1930, Adorno wrote:
In Repetition, one of his earlier pseudonymous writings, Kierkeg-
aard ... speaks ... of the old Friedrichstadter Theater in Berlin and
describes acomedian named Beckmann whose image evokes. with
the mild fidelity of adaguerreotype, that of the Chaplin who was to
come. The passage reads: "He isnot only able to walk. but he isalso
able tocOllie walking. Tocome walking issomething very distinctive,
and by means of this genius healso improvises the whole scenic set-
ting. Heisable not only to portray an itinerant craftsman: heis also
able to come walking likeoneand in such away that one experienc-
es everything. surveys the smiling hamlet from the dusty highway,
hears itsquiet noise. sees the footpath that goes down by the village
Pllilosoplrical Exercises III Repeution
3
2
9
pond when one turns off there by theblacksmith's-where onesees
IBeckmann I walking along with his little bundle on his back, his
stick in his hand, untroubled and undaunted. Hecan come walking
onto the stage followed by street urchins whom one does not sec."
"The one," Adorno continued,
who comes walking isChaplin, who brushes against theworldlikea
slow meteor even where he seems to be at rest; the imaginary land-
scape that he bri nBSalong is the meteor's aura, which gathersherein
the quiet noise of the village into transparent peace, whilebestrolls
on with the cane and hat that so become him. The invisibletail of
street urchins isthe comet's tail through which theearth cutsalmost
unawares. But when one recalls the scene in T ire Gold Ruslr where
Chaplin, like ,I ghostly photograph in a lively film, comes walking
into the gold mining town and disappears crawling into acabin, it is
as if his figure. suddenly recognized by Kierkega
ard
, populated the
cityscape of 1840 like sraffagc; from this background the star only
now has finally emerged.·
9
Under thepseudonym Constantin Constantius, Kierkegaard'sowndiscus-
sion in Repetition focused on his return from his native home to Berlin(once
a home abroad), on the need to take something back that had been lost, on
the need to return to aplace that could not by recollection alonebe envisaged
(contra Wittgenstein) by sitting in his living room. He actually went back-
to his home, to the theaters he had once frequented, to the performances
recognized but not rccognizcd-on1y to find that "there is no such thing as
repetition," or at least that, if any sensecan be made of it, repetition is not d
going back-a repeat of sameness-but a forward motion, afUlure-directed
realization of different world, atopsy-turvy world in whicheverythingseems
"OUI of tune." Kierkegaard's essay, not incidentally, is about aJ llhe themes of
my essay: repetition, home, laughter, music, philosophy, and what makes a
person happy. "Repetjtion and recollection are the same 1lI0vem
ent
e)(cept
in the opposite directions," he wrote to capture the doubleness of backward
d
r. d I b isrepeated backwards,
an forward motion "Cor what ISrecollecte las ecn, I .
whereas repetition is'recollected fon~ard. Repetition, therefore, ifil ispOSSIble,
makes a person happy, whereas recollectjon makes him unhappy.·...
ft
th
hewasreturntng home.
When Adorno returned to Frankfurt 3 er ewar,
11
. h . . a1,d self-serving. Hespoke
ISt oughts of return werenoslalglc,sclltlmcnt ,al
330
Lydia God"
(acrually he almost sang in the Schumannesquc tones of his spoken voice) of
doing philosophy once more in its essential langu,lge-Gcrman; of taMing
venison with cream sauce; of feeling the gravel of the road beneath acar that
did not yet, likeAmerican cars, have wheels that transmute the gravel into a
smooth (disciplined) surface of sameness." In aleuer to his colleague Hork-
helmer hewrote of "Returning to Europe" a~having
taken hold of me with a force I cannot describe. And the beaut)' of
Paris shines through the tatters of poyen)' more touchingly than
ever before ... What still exists here may be historically condemned.
and it bears the traces of this clearly enough. but thelacl that it still
exists, the embodiment of temporal disparity, ispart of the histori-
cal picture and allows alilliehope that something humane issurviv-
ing inspite of everything."
However, by internalizing the condition of exile into his philosophical writ-
ing, Adorno transmuted his nostalgia into critical. philosophical reflection.
Instead of his thoughts being self-serving, they were written to"serve theself,"
to return the subject home. From where was the self returning! Promaposi-
tion of being lost or imprisoned in :I mass of metaphysical confusion and
ideological deception.
To open his final and unfinished masterpiece of t969, Aesthetic Theory.
Adorno declared for art what he had felt also on his return to Germany many
yearsbefore: "Itisself-evident that nothing concerning art isself-evident any
more, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, 110teven its right toexist:'
Here it sounds as if Adorno wasexpressing regret that art no longer liveswith
its self-evidence. However. if weput term "Germany" ill the place of "art" we
also see asense of relief. For self-evidence belongs at best to an enlightened
world that once was but no longer is, but nt worst to aworld that, first time
around, produced Auschwitz. Adorno could find little sense in being either
merely resigned or merely ironic about art or Germany having come some-
how to an end.
For Adorno, in contrast to Wittgenstein, the self that returned was not
happy. As Wittgenstein said. theworld of the happy man isdifferent fromthat
of the unhappy man. Yethappiness for Adorno was something transmuted
into the deepest and most internalized subjective misery. LikeWittgenste~n.
Adorno was concerned with 3metaphysical return home. LikeWittg~nstelll,
the return meant seeing the proper condition of one's attitude to the world.
However, at the opposite pole, the returned self was aself that would refuse
Pl1ilosopiricill Exercises i/l R('peritioll
33'
oneness or agreement with the world and choose tostay rather inacondition
of exile or resistance. Exile, Adorno wrote at the end of his recollection of
"scientific experiences" in America, was deprovincializing. He was"induced
no longer to regard as natural the conditions that had developed hislOrically,
likethose in Europe: ./ lot to rake , / , ; lI g s f or g rnllted:»" Exile,evenafter return,
was still the place to be-the place where philosophkal thinking starts and
where in modernity itends.
When Adorno internalized his exileor estranged subjectivity into philo,
sophical form, he did so, as Wittgellstein did, under the influenceof aVien-
nese modernism represented by figures such as Karl Kraus, Adolf Loos, 31Id
Arnold Schoenberg. All these modernists wanted 10 dClnons
tratc
adistinction
in their re-conceptualizations of form. between the truthfulness of internal,
logical form and "falsity" or "crime" of externally imposed (sociallyco-opted)
ornament and style. Thus, Schoenberg, for example. spoke of amusical logic
according to which awork iscompositionally structured byan IdeaIGedaJ lktl.
which is more or less (the relation is unclear) identical to a"tone row."The
Gcdankc is taken to replace the more traditional coreor structuring principle
of tonality. If a"core" or "center" is retained at all in the new compositional
method, it is so under the formalist provision that it be understood entirely
in terms of the ordering and arrangement of the tone row accordjng to the
"logical" rule. of continuation. Schoenberg cbar~cteristically referredto these
as the rules of developing variation. Any arrangement of the tone-row has
equal status as each tone has in the row. Each tone is rd.lled to all others al
though not in virtue of an independent unifying principle. Indescribing thL~
conceptual shift in the history of serial music, Adorno wrote exactly to the
point: "Variations are no longer composed on themes: composition becomes
variation in general, without astatic theme:'"
Adapting the shift to philosophjcal writing, themodernists fo~usedon ~h.e
logical or formal ordering of individual sentences. Compare WJ ltgenstems
techniques of surface juxtaposition and repetitiOn of sentences and thoughts
with Adorno's use of declarative sentences that arc rarely connected by ex-
plicit connective terms. In his Aesthetic Theory he uses almo,t nn"therefores:
The formalist assertion here is that thesentences arc connected Implicitlyor
latently through the internal meaning of each thought itself. trutbful fO,rm
without the confusion of ornament, without theannouncement ofrepclllJ on •
. hour.as i . f it I ticn Dc"elopin
o
V3T13tion
WILout, as J O mustc. the declllratlO
n
0 recap' u a I . ".
either in music and philosophy is about thestructural (temporal and spallal)
movement of thoughts. .
For the modernists. form served jointly to sustain philosophIcal J rgu-
80so ., eO'tO·.,ot
332
L)'tlln G ochr
rnent and cultural critique. Consider J typical sentence from Adorno from
his critique of the culture industrv: Radio promise» lrccdom and individual-
itybut infact "turns all participants into listeners and .lUtnorildtlvd}' subjects
them to broadcast programs which are all exactlv the S.JIllC.'" The sameness
gives them comfort they seek, but it is a false comfort. Identifying with the
infantile aggression of "canned laughter" they do not notice the real humor
and dignity emanating from what (if an>thing) is being said. They learn to
respond entirely to technology's effects, to identify with exactlv whattnc)' art'
being given. The habits formed fit far less their freedom than the ,omfortable
identity they think they have achieved.
Adorno was concerned to break these habits to break the spell of tech-
nology's form and effect, He thought that (Schoenbcrg's) music could help.
Schoenberg's music was dissonant not only in its emancipated atonal form: it
was also socially dissonant insofar as it had the potenual to challenge musi-
cal listeners' most established habits lust by flouting their expectation. about
what they thought music should be like. Such music would provoke cog
ni
-
tively dissonant moments just by forbidding the listeners a false comfon or
the "culinary delights" of easy identification. What was the point of breaking
the habits? To give listeners a glimpse of a freedom and dignity they were
being promised but most denied, The culture industry, he famously wrote,
speaks inuntruth: the more it promises freedom, difference and individuality,
the more it administers a kind of sameness, conformity, and idc:ntity. How
does it break its promises? Through the playof form. We listen not to what we
are not being told, only to whar we are told; we do not recognize how the forrn
of media or technology makes the dialectic of content possible, by presenting
the content at the same time that it manipulates it.
Yet, if form was being used to mask truth. it could also be used to reveal
it. For Adorno. dissonance was amode of description pertaining not just to
musical form itself but also to the socially antagonistic relation between rnu-
sic and listener. He spoke accordingly of the double character of the work of
music in terms of its aesthetic form and social truth potential. The only point
1want to stress here is that, in his view, the double character of music was
transferable to philosophy: if music could challenge the listener through form,
so philosophy could challenge the thinker through form, Adorno's aimwas to
write adissonant philosophy in terms appropriate to philosophy. What was
his purpose? To challenge ametaphysics of sameness that was giving philosO-
phers afalse sense of happiness in their philosophical homes.
Adorno made the potential of dissonance the point of most of his writ-
ings on music. But he also made it the point of his essays about the return 10
PJ I I /osop/lica/ E xercises;1I Ro:petirioll
333
Germany. The person, he asserted, who can adapt to exile is no different in
conformist mentality from the person who can adapt to home. 11was adapta-
tion Adorno feared most. "All mass culture is fundamentally adaptation," the
repetition of the selfsame, he argued in "The Schema of Mass Culture.»" So
when he returned home, he said he wanted to return to a home or a society
that would not repeat itself. No repeal. he repeated at least six limes in one
essay, of Auschwitz. I n anolher essay about return entitled «On the Question:
'What is German?'." he admitted his desire to feel the identification with the
familiar, but not if that entailed the repetition of disaster. He wanted return
without repetition, or if repetition. then forward directed repetition without
sameness. And what would prevent such disaster? Changing the way wewere
rationalizing the home in which we found ourselves.
However, Adorno was not content with a world in which the metaphysi-
cal resting place showed you that everything was in its place: this, for him.
was just another conservative and potentially most dangerous illusion. "The
viewer," he wrote,
is supposed to be as incapable of looking suffering in the eyeas heis
of exercising thought. However, even more essential than transpar-
ent affirmation is the predetermined resolution in the "happy end-
ing" of every tension whose purely apparent character is revealed
by the ritual conclusion. Every specimen of mass culture in its wry
structure is as historical as the perfectl)' organized world of the fu-
ture could wish it to be."
Y et, like witrgcnstein. Adorno did think that desirable change was situated in
the way we think. Adorno here appealed to something tbe experience of exile
and return had taught him, namely. that "a sense of continuity and 10rJ lty to
one's own past is not the same as arrogance and obstinacy with regard 10.the
person one happens to be. no mailer how easily the formcr degenerates 11110
the I nlier." For realloyaJ lY demands not relinquishing oneself so I hat.one may
adapt, but developing a the sort of discriminating self where one I Sable 10
understand other people.
18
• •
He also spoke, repeatedly, of breaking the spell and,fuscmatlOnof FJ S~I )m
by working through of the past. What did such a working through mean. I te
h
/
1.' through a proce~ of repeated
• owed us: a workillg through was a 11111 .tIIg , •
h
t
~ould break the spell of our
steps and dissonant formal development t a , . I' '01 S tlut would alloW u, It>
most familiar r-J tionalizatioI 1S, the raBona lzall l' . .'
11
h
h d once ~nded 111 AUSl:hwlll.
continue to feel comfortable in a wor c t at a
334
What did be fear in the present? That the Fascist tendencies once manifest in
the objective conditions of Nazi Germany were still present in the post-war
conditions of democracy:
I consider the survival of National Socialism 1\'1//';11 democracy to
be potentially more menacing than the survival of fascist tendencies
ngnmsr democracy, Infiltration indicates something objective; am-
biguous figures make their comeback and occupy positions of power
for the sole reason that conditions favor them."
Ambiguous figures making their "comeback" was an image that stood pre-
ciselyat the opposite extreme, for Adorno. of the figure, Chaplin, who-still
with humor-"cornes walking."
The form of the essay of "The Meaning of Working through the Past" was
designed to walk us step by step through our most optimistic rationaliza-
tions in order 10 break their spell. Dissonant tactics were used throughout;
familiarity constantly transfigured into unease: juxtapositiom of what it is
easier to feci with what it is harder to feel. "One wants to break free of the
past," Adorno wrote:
rightly, because nothing at all can live in its shadow, and because
there will be no end to the terror as long as guilt and violence are
repaid with guilt and violence: wrongly, because the past that one
would like to evade is still very much alive.?"
We usc euphemisms, he said, to make thc terror of fascism less terrible; we
distract ourselves by quarrelling about numbers; we argue that somehow the
victims brought the terror upon themselves: we talk about getting on with the
future: we say the Germans suffered too. Adorno's point was to show-mi-
metically-not the truth or falsity of such claims per se; but the way we cre-
ate patterns of rationalizations to veil what frightens us most. We become
convinced by such rationalizations. How do we come to sec: through them?
By Listening to what we say. By stating our beliefs coldly, repeating them, [ux-
taposing them, exaggerating them to create a different pattern such that if
our beliefs are being held without thought, they will once again become food
for thought. Adorno called this process doing philosophy or dialectics at the
extreme. "I have exaggerated the somber side, following the maxim that onl)'
exaggeration per sc today can be the medium of truth."?'
PI,ilosoplJicnl Exercises "' Rcpetit,orr
335
where do we arrive when our "walking-cure" is over, when the spell of
our rationalizations is broken? Not immediately to a transformation of so-
ciety's objective conditions-how could a walk through rationalizations do
that?-but, likeVViltgenstein, to a transformation of the subject, oftbe person
taking the walk. "A working through of the past understoOd 3S enlightenment
is essentially such a turn towards the subject, the reinforcement of a person's
self-consciousness and hence also of his self."'"
Adorno described this move from non-understanding to understanding,
or from confusion to truthfulness, as a subjective enlightenment. Inwhat did
it consist? In the alteration of the unhappiness of unfrecdom into the unhap-
piness of freedom, i.e., from the transformation of asubject who cannot resist
the lure of familiarity that will suck him into an identity with a world that
deceives him to a subject who critically resists his desire to feel comfortably at
home in a world that is in danger. Adorno remained unhapPY as freesubject
because he found a "wretched reality" in plain view. In"Education after Aus-
chwitz;' he wrote, under Freud's influence: "education must takeseriously an
idea in no wise unfamiliar to philosophy: that anxiety must not be repressed;'
"''hat he meant was that, at best, {rue anxiety would replace a displaced anxi-
ety for which we tend to seek the comfort of rationalizations.·'
Still in Los Angeles, it seemed that Adorno thought the end really marked
an end, and everything that would foUowwould be 100late. With Horkhcimer
he wrote: "\<\'hat Odysseus hears is without consequence for him; he is able
only to nod his head as a sign to beset freefrom his bonds; but it istOOlate,""
And yet, after his return, he saw the survival of the subject still to depend
upon the work it did if not ill the world, then at least in atlillldinru relation
to it. What docs one do when it is too late? Accept nothing but the ironic
possibility of cold repetition or write still of how the subject might rcs~ore
itsdP. Neither option for Adorno was hapPY ' although both were pOSSIble.
That Adorno ended so many of his ess.~yswitb an appeal for the r~turn of self
certainly plays a final chord of residual hopefulness in an other
Wlse
mo~t pes-
• •• • . 1 comlnit~el1t to a nollon of
surusuc picture. What does this shOW?At east a ".
self that, in working through the deceptions WiUlwhich theworld confront~
. I . . h • _ .. 1 1 if as 1haveargued, II
It, las not utterly despaired of seeking us om.,--_ ve '. ed B
was a search pursued in the perpetually exiled state of haVingescap . ut
r. Ad it waspreCiselythe way
why this perpetually exiled state? B ecaUse, lor orno, . . . di I . 1
. b h r to malntarn Its 1 3 ecllcn
not to isolate the subject from SOciety, ut, rat er, bi but i . . dition for thesU )ect, lit It
play with it. Exile may have been a distanCingcon d
d
h gh Honle, for A orno. wa>
was always a social condition through an t rou .
no living room.
336
VI.
Seeking ahome for the modern subject return, lIS In the be't possible world
to Kant's civilized dinner parties where the outcome of listening to music
and to jokes leads to the restfulness, peace, ami securitv of Enlightenment
optimism. Or does it? Recall that with his own philosophical formalism, Kant
told us about guests who laugh at jokes les Dl'CdU,O: of their content, and
more because of their dissonant form: the form of expectation, frustration,
and resolution. \,'ie laugh, he said, at the dissonance in logic. the frustrated
expectation that finally gels resolved. However Kant emphasized something
else too, that although listening to music and laughing at jokes might tell us
something about the formof experience. these particular forms of experience
end inaplace where "nothing isthough I."
Let me adapt this Kantian limitation to the arguments of our philosophi-
cal modernists. If philosophical form internalizes Wingenstcin's and Adorno's
conditions of exile or estrangement, as I have argued. it too run, the risk of
ending in nothing thought. Yetboth Wutgenstein and Adorno offer endings
that seem to be about something thought. So what are we to think? Maybe
that the outcome that gives Wittgenstein his happy ending and Adorno his
miserable one may nor, after all, bethe outcome solely of formp e r sc,but also
reassertions of content. and invoking Freud again, reusscrtions of unconscious
content. If the purpose of dissonant philosophical form, aform that refusesa
core, isto leavespace for afreeand dynamicaUy constituting subject, then the
subject wefind in this freedom might in the end be3divided or contradictory
one. "The principle of individuality was always full of contradiction," Adorno
wrote." Hence, in this freespace, we might find not only ap hilosop hical sub-
ject with acritically thinking attitude, but also aJiving subject whose desires,
nostalgias and sentiments have been left in place.
In other terms, the nostalgia and sentiment that lures the Jiving sub-
ject home might not always be transmuted successfully by the p llilosop lr icnl
subject who chooses to see his home differently. Certainly the endings often
sound more likeassertions of temperament than philosophical thoughts. "I
don't mind what I eat:' Wittgenstcin famously once said, "so long as it'salways
the same thing." Would Adorno have said the same of his venison increafll
sauce? But if one thinks now that apotentially unresolved ending betrays, and
thus renders afailure, the philosopher's form, that would beto miss the point.
Because the real failure of philosophical form wouldn't necessarily be one
that left aspace for an unresolved ending, but one precisely that did not leave
such aspace.
Philosophical Exercises illRepetition
J J 7
"The way things are:' wrote Adorno to end one of his essays, "should not
be the final word," .. In regard to philosophy. even the happier wiugcnstein
would have agreed. "It is as though I had lost my way and askedsomeone the
way home. He says he will show me and walks along a nicesmooth path. This
suddenly comes to an end. And now my friend says:'All you haveto do now is
find the rest of the way home from here,'?" The point isthat, for both pbiloso-
phers, "rhe rest of the way home" isjust where all the "friction" and "rough
ground" resides. For Wittgenstein it was the rough ground of philosophy; for
Adorno, the rough ground also of politics. Par Wirtgenstein it was thesickness
of philosophy. for Adorno the philosophical melancholia that never "returns"
(but never say never) to health. If this is correct. then it is so independently
of whether or not "the way things are" make for happy or unhappy endings."
The exiled German poet Erich Fried, influenced by Adorno and yet thinking
about Wittgenstein, knew this only too well. Of doing philosophy at Oxford.
he wrote in 1978:
"Philosophy leaves everything the way it is"
Then upon the way it isdepends the gravity of its crime inleav-
ing everything the way it is.
69
Notes
I Cutture anti 1I11/lIe.ed, G. H. von Wright (Oxford: BladMcll, 19
80
).5
2
.
~ Dialectic of EII/igltlemlletll.tralls.J ohnCUJ l1mins(New Y ork:Continuulll. 199
6
).
78.
Phncdrus, 175-
6
, trans. W. C. I-Ielmboldand W. G. RabinowitZ(New Y ork;
Bobbs-Mcrrill, 1956).69-7
0
.
4 Culture IIIld Va/llc. 80.
5 "Culture and Administration." in 'fhe Cllltlire InduSIr')': Sdrctttl "ssa)~ 011 "'II.SS
Culture, ed, I. M. Bernstein(London: Routledge. 199
1
), II).
6 "The Schema of MassCuhure:' in'file CII/Illre lllnllstl}\ 75·
7 ·On the Fctish-Chnracttr in Musicand the Regression0: ~~~c~nti~I;~::'~!
seiuio! Frtrrrkfurt Sclroo/ Renr/cr. trans. AndrewArato.
1lI
'1 e e J
York: Continuum. 1995).284.
/ Tlleor)' of S),,,,wls (London: Ox
8 Goodman. umgllllgcs of Art: All APProt
lc
I 10a
ford University Press. 1969), l-HiT.
338 Lytiia Goel«
9 Remarks Ofl rile Pllilosopily oJ Psycilology. ed. C;. h..\ I.Anscombe and C..H. von
Wright. I(Oxford: Blackwell. 1980). 517.
10 Philosophical IllI'csrignriolls. ed. C;. E. ~1. Anscombc and Rush Rhees, (Oxford:
Blackwell. 1997).l>eC.53t. 143-4.
U Philosophical Occasions; '91l-1951. ed. J ames C. Klagge and \llrcd Nordmann
(Indianapolis: HackclI.1993I,180.
12 Millima Moralia. Rejlc((Ions from Damages! Life. tram. E.EN. lephcou (london:
Verso. 1978).
13 TI,e Critique oJ Judgml'III. sec. 51-).
'4 TIle Critique of ludgemen«, trans. J ames Creed Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon.
1980).198.
15 Iam not saying that only the temporal arts contain such moment>; only that
they are exemplary in being able to displav the changing patterns within cogni-
tive development.
16 Beyond the Pleasure Principle. trans. and ed. J ames Strachey (New Y ork: Norton.
1961).42.
17 I have taken these versions from The Big Book oJ [ewish Humor. ed, William
Novak and Moshe WaJ doks (New Y ork: Harper. 1981I.
18 Lectures 011 Aesthetics. Psychology a",[ Religious Belief, cd. Cyril Barrell (Oxford:
Blackwell. 1966).~.
19 Remarks 011 the Pllilosoplry oJ Psychology. pt. I. sec. 90. 19.
20 Pili/osopilical/llvesrlgariolls, pr, I. sec. 602-3. '57.
21 Zettel. I'd. G. E. M. Anscornbe and C.Il. von Wright, znd edition (Oxford: Black-
well. 1967). sec. 444. 77.
22 Lectures 1m Aesthetics, 18-9.
23 Culture alld Value. 55.
24 Plriiosopllicallm·cstigatiolU. pt. I.sec. 1.29,50.
15 Philosophical Grammar. ed. Rush Rhees (Oxford: Blackwell. 1974). pt. 1. 283-4.
26 Philosophical Occnsions, 178.
27 Cf. Pllilosopl,ical lnvestigations, pt. 1. sec. 594. 55.
28 Quoted inB. R. Tilghman's Wirrgell5reill, Ethics, and Al'srhrrics (London: Mac-
millan. t9911, 116.
29 Phitosophica! IIlVcstigatiolls, pt. I.sec. 111,47.
30 The Blue and Brown Books: Prelimiary Swdles Jar the Philosopllll:nl "",esrigatioflS.
(Oxford: Blackwell. 1969). znd cd.•pt. 2.166-7.
31 P/u/osophicollllvesrigariollS. pt. I.sec. 536. 144.
32 Philosophical Grarlllllllf. pt. 1.79.
Philosoplucal Exercises ill Repetition 339
33 Philosophiro! Occasions, 177·
34 Culture nnd Value, 3·
35 Philosophical Occnsions •• 81.
36 On bumps, see Pililosopilimi JnvestigatiollS. pt. 1.48.
37 Cllirurf and Vnlue.88.
3
8
Remarks (/11 'he Foundations of Matllemmics. ed, G.H. von Wright, G. E. M. Ans-
cornbc, and Rush Rhees (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978). revised 3
r
d edition. 333·
39 Culture and Vaillc. 57,
.10 Remarks 011 the Philosophy of Psye/lologr, I , pt. I , sec, 361, 7
1

41 Philosophica! Grammar. sec. 120. ,69·
41 Philosophical Occasions. 177·
43 TrlICItlIIlS, 6.43.
44 Philosophica! Gmmlllar, pt. I , 165·
45 NOlebooks. /914-1916, ed. G.H. von Wright and G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford:
131.1ckweU. 1979),8.7.16,75·
46 Culture alii/ Valrte.41.
47 Cutture IIIld Vnlue. 88. Cf. Freud's remark on humor that "possesses a dignity
which is wholly lacking, for inWUlCC,in jokes. for jokes either serve simply to
obtain a yield of pleasure or place the yield of pleasure thai has been obtained
in the serve of aggression," (quoted in Simon Crichlcy's most insightful paper
"Freud's Sense of Humour-e-or Why the Super-Ego is Y our Amigo,".1 paper thai
treats Freud's litlie-known essay on humor, as opposed 10 his larger theory of
jokes (ms.).
48 "Chaplin Times 1\vo." trans. J ohn Mackay, The YalefOllnllll ofCrilids/II, 9. no. •
(1996),57-6 r,
49 loc, cit.
50 Fear and Trembling. Repetition, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna I I . Hong,
Kierkegaard'« Writings, 6 (Princeton: Princelon University Pres.~1933). 1}2-7
6

51 "Erika Mann und Theodor W. Adorno irn Gcsprnch mit Adolf Fris~. J anuary
29. 1958," in Rilckkehr ill (lie Frelllde? RtllligflltJtCII und RllndfilllK 1/1 /)clIuc/,lallll
(1945-
1
955), ed. Hans-Ulrich Wagner (Berlin: VistJ , 20(0).
52 Quoted by RolfWiggershaus. TI l( Frmlkfllrt &1100/: Its Hirrnry. Thames; 01111PIJo
litical Sigflijicallce. trans. Michael Robertson (OI 01bridgc, MA: MI T Press. 1994).
403·
S3 "Scientific Experiences of ~European Scholar in America; Critical Mod,'is: 1: ,-
terventions mltl Cntchll'Om5. trans. Henry W. Pickford (New Y orlc Columbia
University Press, 1998), 239·
340 Lydia God"
54 "The Prehistory of Serial Music," in SOlllld Figures, trans. Rodnev Livingstone
(Stanford: Stanford UniwrMt)· Pre••, 19991. 59.
55 Dialectic of Enlightenment, 122
56 TIleCulture lndustrv, 58.
5i "The Schema of Mass Culture," CIa.
58 "On the Question: 'What isGermani'," Cnucal Models, 209-10.
59 "The Meaning of Working Through the Past." Critical MI,dr/ s, 90.
60 Ibid.•59.
61 Ibid., 99.
62 Ibid.•102.
63 Critical Models. 199.
64 Dinleaic of Ellligilletlmelll. 34.
65 Dinlectic or Enlightenment, 155.
66 "What is Germani," 214.
67 Culture and VII/IIC, 53.
68 Philosophicnl tnvestigations, sec. 107.
69 100Poems without a Cowltrr, trans. Stuart Hood (London: lohn wider. 1990),
144. I am most grateful to many colleagues, students, and friend s, notably to
Danny Herwitz, Gregg Horowitz. and Ernst Osterkamp. but most especially to
Steve Gerrard with whom I jointly conceived the wiugensteinian side of this
paper as he was writing his companion piece: "How not to do philosophy: wnr-
genstein on mistakes of surface and depth."
The Anti-Hermeneutic Impulse:
Beyond Modernity or Beyond Modernism?

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